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In Numbers: How Has COVID-19 Impacted Women at Work?

The consequences of crises are never gender-neutral, and the novel coronavirus is no exception. A growing body of research on the impact of COVID-19 suggests that women have disproportionately been affected, with some data highlighting that women are experiencing more economic loss than their male counterparts. 

Globally, the invisible virus has led to a greater economic fallout for women with their careers at risk or a standstill. According to Deloitte, nearly 70% of women who have experienced negative disruptions caused by the pandemic are concerned about their ability to progress in their careers. Those with caregiving duties at home also face a unique set of challenges. The rate of women shouldering 75% of more of caregiving responsibilities almost tripled from 17% pre-pandemic to 48% at the time of Deloitte’s survey.  

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The pandemic has also added a significant strain on women as they make up 70% of the health and social care workforce and are more likely to be frontline health workers, especially midwives, nurses, and community health workers.  ‘During lockdown, (women) have been active on all fronts, forced to work while caring for their children. As in every economic crisis, they are at greater risk of losing their jobs or of having their wages cut’ noted European Central Bank’s first female president, Christine Lagarde.

Victim to Unemployment

Estimates by McKinsey peg women’s jobs are 1.8 times more vulnerable to this crisis than men’s jobs. Despite making up 39% of global employment, women account for 54% of overall job losses. In August 2020, CNN ran the headline: ‘Working mothers are quitting to take care of their kids, and the US job market may never be the same.’ And as predicted, between February 2020 and January this year, the US labour department recorded more than 2.5 million women who quit the labour force compared to 1.8 million men. 

More locally, mothers in the UK were found to be 1.5 times more likely than fathers to have either quit their job or lost it during the lockdown, as per a report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies. In the case of part-time workers, working fewer paid hours in total still tend to pay lower hourly rates than comparable positions with full-time hours. 

A recent report by UN ESCWA found that the already low female labour workforce participation in some countries is projected to drop as a sizeable proportion of women are further at risk of losing jobs or accepting unfair working conditions. Another analysis commissioned by UN Women and UNDP highlighted that four hundred and thirty five million women and girls will be living on less than £1.37 a day in 2021, including forty seven million pushed into poverty due to the pandemic. 

Within the tech industry, women were found to be nearly twice as likely to have lost their jobs due to the pandemic, and a significantly higher figure experiencing burnout from juggling work and home responsibilities, a report by TrustRadius revealed. Female executives in the tech space are also nearly five times more likely than men – 39% compared with 8% – to see gender bias as a barrier to promotion.  

Victim to Unemployment

In an exceptional case, women in one sector had an alternative experience with the pandemic’s presence. At 49%, nearly half of female cybersecurity professionals in the US and the UK said COVID-19 had a positive impact on their careers, according to research by security firm Tessian. Only 9% claimed the pandemic hurt their job. The forced switch to digital consequently meant a wave of recruitment in this field. To support their teams, 94% of women cybersecurity hired new staff members in 2020. 

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Promising Pledges

Still, recognizing the need for change and improving the current barriers women face, global leaders have made some bold statements stressing inclusivity. 

On International Women’s Day this month, US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen called for long-term steps to improve women’s labour market conditions. She addressed that women’s participation was already lower in the US pre-pandemic than in Europe, another challenge that needed to be tackled. 

Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, said, ‘Only by fully – and meaningfully – including women in leadership at all levels can we ensure that our responses to the pandemic meet the needs of everyone.’

‘We must also do more to support women-led businesses to be part of the recovery, so they can more readily experience the benefits of trade.’

Meanwhile, highlighting the labour market’s evident gender gap, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen argued that the present employment rate of 67% for women is ‘not acceptable’ against the rate for men that stood at 78%.

‘Last week, we set a new target for Europe: we must cut the gender employment gap by half, and by the end of this decade, 78% of all Europeans must have a job. It will not be easy, but we will do everything in our power to reach this goal. The Commission required that all member states put women at the centre of their post-COVID-19 recovery plans. It will only be a true recovery if these plans are for all,’ she pledged on International Women’s Day. 

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